Image by Kriss Szkurlatowski

© Gaye Wilson 2010

I’ve heard of people being paralysed with fear before, and I’ve seen it – they go rigid, stare into space, and can’t move. It takes ages to come out of it.

But paralysed BY fear? I’m not talking about the person who’s afraid of heights who freezes when he sees a long drop, although it’s related. I’m talking here about being so afraid of something that hasn’t happened yet that you can’t do anything. This type of paralysis isn’t so much a physical paralysis as a mental one. (Trust me, there’s a subtle difference!)

I’m in that situation now. I’m paralysed by fear about my studies.

My penultimate Russian exam is in a week’s time, but I can’t make myself study. I’m afraid I will fail.

There are all sorts of reasons why this is a reasonable fear. The major one (and ultimately the only one that really counts as far as the exam is concerned) is that I haven’t studied enough. Why? Because I have experienced the absolute worst six months in my entire life, and study has been at the bottom of my list of things to do and worry about.

The problem now is how to get out of my funk and do enough study to pass the exam.

Yesterday, when I mentioned that I was having trouble motivating myself to study, someone said to me: “Just do it!”

Hmm, it’s actually not that easy to “just do it” when you’re afraid. If I could “just do it”, I’d be a billionaire by now. But the definition of courage is to take action when you are afraid. If there’s no fear involved, it’s not courage.

Here are some thoughts on how to get out of paralysis that is caused by fear:

1. Acknowledge the fear.

Realise that the fear is what is stopping you from moving forward, not the actual task. Once you’ve acknowledged that it’s actually fear that is the obstacle, you might be able to move away from it.

2. Acknowledge where you are.

Okay, you’ve realised that you’re paralysed by fear. Now look at where you are in relation to the achievement of your goal. Where did you stop in the process? Once you know where you are, you can start to figure out what you have to do from now on.

3. Take one small step NOW to rectify the problem.

What one thing can you do today to move you forward? Do that one thing. Then do another one.

4. Enlist help.

In my case, I can enlist help from the lecturer (done that, she’s very supportive), from fellow students, from friends, from family. The type of help obviously depends on the type of problem. For me, the obvious help would be to get someone to test me on vocabulary. And/or to get a Russian friend.

5. Talk to a coach or counsellor.

Coaches are amazing people. They can motivate, stimulate and rejuvenate. They have tricks up their sleeves that will move the most stubborn blocks. Counsellors do something similar, but might be more suited to working out why you have the block in the first place.

6. Realise that this too will pass.

Most things in life are temporary. Once you realise that the situation you’re in has a sunset clause (i.e. it won’t last beyond a certain date), you can work through it. The thing now is to get through this period with the best possible outcome.

7. Focus.

Work out the best possible outcome under the circumstances, and focus on how you will achieve it.

The trick is obviously not to let fear paralyse you in the first place, but if you do find yourself in that position, screw up your courage, get help and take baby steps towards your goal.

Now I’m going to go away and learn ten Russian words. And hope that helps to banish the fear just a little bit.

© Gaye Wilson 2009

What’s that you say? Practical Vladimir sits cheerfully preening seven vampires? WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT????

Let me explain.

As I’ve posted before, I’m learning Russian. When studying for my most recent exam, I realised that I still didn’t know the days of the week as well as I wanted to. I kept getting Monday and Sunday mixed up, and I wasn’t too cluey about Friday and Wednesday.

So I thought about what I’ve done previously to learn something that was elusive. I remembered the technique I used in this post, which is to create a sentence using the initial letters of the words I want to remember.

So I thought about the Russian days of the week, and quickly came up with a ridiculous sentence that is not easily forgotten. Practical Vladimir Sits Cheerfully Preening Seven Vampires.

Monday = Понедельник = Practical
Tuesday = Вторник = Vladimir
Wednesday = Среда = Sits
Thursday = Четверг = Cheerfully
Friday = Пятница = Preening
Saturday = Суббота = Seven
Sunday = Воскресенье = Vampires

Can you see Vladimir? Do you have a picture of him in your mind? I do. Actually, the initial draft of this mnemonic sentence didn’t have Vladimir being practical. It had him as something else which made the mental image even more unforgettable, but the dictionary says the word is ‘informal, rude’, so I thought I should probably not put it up in a blog post.

Anyway, as with the previous post about mnemonic helps for learning the Russian case endings, this sentence is based on the initial sounds of the Russian days of the week.

How can you use this technique for learning a new language, or a new subject? Leave a comment about how you have used this technique, plus your mnemonic sentences, so that other people can learn quicker.

© Gaye Wilson 2008
As I’ve posted before, I’m learning Russian.

The Russian language has six cases:

  • Nominative
  • Accusative
  • Genitive
  • Dative
  • Instrumental
  • Prepositional

Each case requires different word endings.

In order to make yourself understood in Russian, or to understand Russian, you need to know all the possible endings for all six cases for nouns, pronouns and adjectives (at least – that’s as far as I’ve got so far in learning the language).

I’ve been having trouble learning the case endings. We were introduced to two cases in first semester: nominative and prepositional. In second semester, we were introduced to the other four cases. Next semester we will learn all cases in the plural.

That’s a lot of case endings to learn in three months. Well, I think so, anyway.

So, here I was, studying for my end of semester exam, and having trouble remembering the case endings. I searched the internet, with no luck. I emailed Nathalie Fairbanks of SpeakEZ Languages if she had any tips on learning case endings. She did (thanks Nathalie!), but her method wasn’t going to get them into my brain quickly (the exam was approaching fast!).

Then I remembered a technique that I was introduced to when learning the order of the planets. Mnemonics.

When I went to school, we learnt the order of the planets from the sun using a silly sentence:

My Very Earnest Mother Just Sat Upon North Pole.

Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto.

You might have learned it using a different mnemonic sentence, but the point is, mnemonics work.

So I wondered if I could learn Russian case endings using the same technique. Turns out, I can.

The first problem I encountered was that no-one seems to have written about this on the internet. If you search on Russian case mnemonics, you get ways of learning colour names in Russian (Wikipedia), or suggestions to use mnemonics to learn vocabulary by associating the sound of a word with a silly picture, such as associating the German word for lobster (der Hummer) with a mental picture of a lobster with a sense of humour (see German by Association (Link Word) by Gruneberg for this example).

That’s fine, and useful, but didn’t help me learn the Russian case endings.

So I decided to write my own Russian case ending mnemonic sentences. Apparently no-one has done this before.

Here’s what I did:

I wrote out the case endings for nouns, and looked at the patterns. I discovered that feminine nouns have fewer case endings than masculine ones, but that didn’t help me learn them quickly (although the same observation about Russian feminine adjective endings was a godsend!).

I decided that, since I knew when each case should be used, I should write one mnemonic sentence for each case. The next problem was how to make an English sentence using Russian letters. This didn’t work. For instance, the Russian letter “Я” is pronounced “ya”, but there is no English letter that is equivalent. So I had to devise a system whereby I used a word starting with a “ya” sound. The only one I could think of was “YAK”. As it turned out, this wasn’t particularly helpful, because I couldn’t necessarily fit the same word into each case sentence.

My first try at a Russian case ending mnemonic sentence was for the Accusative Case. It won’t make sense to anyone but me (but feel free to use it or change it if it helps you):

Nominative Case
Accusative Case
Angry (1)
Don’t (2)
Hoy (3)
Velvet (4)

 Notes to Accusative Case mnemonic:

  1. I used a word starting with A so I know I’m using the Accusative case
  2. The ending doesn’t change, so I used “don’t” to convey that there is something on this line of the table, but it doesn’t have a sound value
  3. I couldn’t think of an English word that starts with this sound, so I made up a word. Hey, it works!
  4. I told you this doesn’t make sense, but I was trying to convey the soft sound ь here.

The Genitive Case was a little easier, and uses the Russian sounds in English words:

Great (1)
Armies (2)
Ignore (3)

Notes for the Genitive Case sentence mnemonic:

  1. The “Great” at the beginning shows me which case I’m talking about, and it worked out quite nicely in this sentence.
  2. This one evokes images of armies in the frozen wastes of Mongolia, arguing (or not) about the military uses of yaks.
  3. The sentence reads: Great Armies Yak About Yaks We Idiots (presumably a not-so-great army) Ignore.

The Dative Case gave me more trouble and it took me a couple of weeks to come up with this gem, which I’ll NEVER forget:


Note on the Dative Case mnemonic sentence:

  1. This sentence is my favourite. It is an exclamation of frustration and reads:
    Dammit! Ooh you – ooh you – execrable elephant eeking inside! (as opposed to making eeking noises outside, I suppose)
    This sentence works on how the case endings sound.

 The remaining two cases I’m not bothering with, because they are easier to remember than the others.

The Instrumental Case is a series of oms, ems, oys and eys, with a byoo at the end. If I know the adjectival endings, I can extraploate the Instrumental noun endings.

The Prepositional Case endings are mostly -e.

So, that is how I learned the case endings of nouns in Russian. Now, when I am doing an exercise or writing a sentence, I simply think of the appropriate mnemonic sentence to remember which ending I need to use.

Please make a comment if you find this technique useful.


© Gaye Wilson 2008
I just enrolled in a university course to learn the Russian language. That’s pretty exciting.

I’m enrolled by distance, which means I don’t attend classes. The lectures are recorded, and the study materials are posted on the university Blackboard web system.

Obviously, this poses some problems in the learning, as I can’t ask questions during the lecture. Also, I don’t get the benefit of attending the tutorials (where new material is sometimes introduced, so I miss it), and the university doesn’t provide additional material for distance students.

However, I’m enjoying learning a language again. This will be the ninth language I’ve studied, apart from my native tongue.

I’m planning to write some blog posts about techniques I’m finding helpful in learning Russian. I’d love some comments on what techniques other people use for learning a language. I’d also love to get links to helpful resources, including books, software, audio programs, websites and blogs.